Just as September is a month of seasonal transition, October is a month of seasonal preparation — every day is a little cooler, a little shorter, and a little bit closer to the first day of winter.
With its crisp weather, changing foliage, and early sunsets, fall creates a stunning backdrop for your outdoor living space. With a bit of thoughtful maintenance, that all-important space can remain just as enjoyable — and just as usable — as the leaves and the temps continue to fall.
Autumn may be relatively short here in the upper Midwest (who can forget that late October snowstorm last year?), but you still have plenty of time to winterize your outdoor space. Here are a few easy ways to prepare your patio, deck, porch, or pergola for year-round use.
Weatherproof Your Wood
Months of snow, ice, wind, and freezing temperatures can take a major toll on outdoor wood surfaces of any kind, including wooden decking, rails, steps, built-in benches, and free-standing wooden furniture.
To keep all the unpainted wooden surfaces in your outdoor living space in peak condition year after year, it’s important to protect against moisture. Before winter arrives, treat wood surfaces with a protective waterproof sealant.
It’s equally important to address loose or splintering deck boards, exposed nails, and wobbly railing before colder temps hit. Once winter sets in, prompt snow and ice removal keeps your outdoor living space accessible and helps prevent mold and mildew.
Prepare Your Patio and Walkways
As the trees in and around your yard lose their leaves, sweep them off your patio and walkways on a regular basis. When it’s allowed to accumulate on concrete, bricks, and pavers, fall foliage can leave unwanted stains that are hard to scrub away.
Autumn is also the perfect time to fill and seal cracks in any of the concrete or stone surfaces in your outdoor living space. It’s also a good idea to ensure patio and walkway edging is free from debris and fits tightly against its neighboring surfaces (i.e. lawn or garden).
Addressing surface cracks and edge gaps before winter helps prevent water from seeping and freezing below the surface, where it can exacerbate existing cracks and undermine the integrity of the surface.
Protect Your Outdoor Furniture
When it comes to keeping outdoor furniture in good condition for as long as possible, standard advice usually involves removing it from your outdoor living space, washing it down, and storing it in the garage, shed, or basement.
But seating is an essential part of any outdoor living space you plan to continue using through the changing seasons — there’s nothing like sitting, gathering, or even grilling outside on a mild winter day.
You can use your outdoor furniture year-round without diminishing its longevity if you take steps to protect it: treat wrought iron pieces with a rust-resistant primer and an exterior-grade enamel paint, seal wicker furniture with a coat of clear marine varnish, and use a water-repelling spray to protect any cushions you plan to leave outside.
When extreme weather prevents you from spending time in your outdoor living space, you can use heavy-duty, weather-resistant furniture covers to protect your investment.
Strike the Perfect Balance
Your outdoor living space can be just as enjoyable on a grey winter afternoon as it is on a bright summer day, provided it has three features to offset the chilly air and illuminate the darkness: a heating element, a lighting element, and an element of comfort.
Taken all together, these elements give your space that indispensable “cozy” factor that makes it so pleasurable to inhabit. Depending on your space and budget, you may opt for a central fire pit, a few portable heat lamps, or even a grand outdoor fireplace.
Additional lighting can really make your space feel warm and welcoming, especially as the days grow shorter. You may install more lights along steps and pathways, use spotlights to highlight landscaping elements, drape the area in pretty outdoor string lights, or all of the above.
If you have a pergola, hanging a pair of heavy-duty outdoor curtains on each side can help you keep the chill away no matter which way the wind is blowing; a free-standing outdoor screen or partition can also provide a bit of protection from the elements.